Man to stand trial in Riverside Park shooting

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 24 2011 1:46 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — It should have been a typical evening of baseball at the park.

"There were tons of parents and kids there," Brandon Schroeder, a Little League Baseball coach, said of May 5 at Riverside Park, estimating the crowds at various games totaled 500. "We had pictures that day, too. There were just a ton of kids." 

Schroeder took the stand Wednesday not to talk about baseball, though, but about a fatal shooting that took place at the park. In the late afternoon as games were under way, prosecutors say, Francisco Alverez, 55, shot and killed Jorge Veracruz, 29, following an argument.

Following the preliminary hearing, 3rd District Judge John Paul Kennedy ordered Alverez to stand trial on murder, a first-degree felony, possession or use of a firearm by a restricted person, a second-degree felony, and felony discharge of a firearm, a third-degree felony. 

Shelbie Lavizzo said she was walking her nephew to his baseball game when she saw three men near a bench, arguing in Spanish. Then one man said, in English, "Don't shoot him, put the gun away." Lavizzo said it was then that she saw that Alverez holding a gun in front of his waist. It looked as though the soon-to-be victim was trying to leave.

"I turned around and that's when (Veracruz) got shot," she said, testifying that she heard four or five gunshots. "I could see everything, hear everything clear." 

Deborah Mery was attending a grandson's baseball game when she crossed the bridge around the same time as Lavizzo. She didn't see Alverez, specifically, just a man shooting a gun and fleeing the scene. 

Schroeder said his team was warming up for their game when he immediately recognized the sound of gunfire. Schroeder took off running, with witnesses and bystanders pointing him in the direction of the shooter, who was on a bike. 

"(The shooter) was stumbling on his bike and he's trying to get the gun and throw it in the river," Schroeder recounted. 

When the man, whom Schroeder identified as Alverez, fell off the bike, Schroeder tackled him. Not long after, Jose Lopez, a Unified police detective who was off duty and coaching a Little League team, arrived and arrested Alverez. 

"My main concern was the gun," Lopez testified, citing the large number of children in the area. "I asked (Alverez) what happened and he said: 'That guy tried to rob me' and pointed to the guy on the ground."

Lopez reported that Alverez told him "the Californian" was responsible for Veracruz's death, but didn't specify as to who that might be.

Dr. Todd Grey, chief medical examiner for Utah, said there were three gunshot wounds in Veracruz's body. The one that would prove fatal punctured the man's spleen, stomach, lung and aorta. 

"The most lethal was the injury to the aorta," Grey explained. "The lung, spleen and stomach could (be lethal), in and of themselves, but in a slower fashion."

Grey said all the bullets had entered Veracruz's back and it would not have been possible that Veracruz was facing the shooter. 

Police later located a .22-caliber handgun near Alverez's bike. An arraignment has been set in the case for Sept. 12. 

Alverez was convicted of murder after he drove his truck over Ogden resident David Bingham, who was 59, in 1979. He was sentenced in 1980 to five years to life in prison and was paroled in 1986. He later violated that parole and returned to prison at least seven times between 1986 and 2000.

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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